By John McCormick and Alex Leary
President Trump and Democrat Joe Biden offered starkly differing
views of the administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic,
traded accusations about their personal finances and questioned
each other's records on economic and racial-justice issues in the
final debate before the Nov. 3 election.
The tone of Thursday night's debate was less combative than
during the pair's first meeting three weeks earlier, with fewer
interruptions, as their microphones were muted at times. The
session was held after more than 47 million Americans -- more than
a third of the total 2016 vote -- already have cast ballots.
Mr. Trump, who frequently interrupted Mr. Biden and the
moderator at the first debate, offered a calmer delivery, and both
candidates delved further into policy issues than at the first
meeting. But certain topics, such as race, ignited fiery
Much of the early portion of the debate was devoted to the
pandemic. Mr. Trump, noting his own recent experience with the
virus, said his administration had taken tough steps to save
"We closed up the greatest economy in the world in order to
fight this horrible disease that came from China," Mr. Trump said.
"We're rounding the turn. We're rounding the corner. It's going
Mr. Biden countered that the president lacked a national
strategy and had misled Americans about the severity of the crisis
that claimed more than 222,000 lives across the country, with 8.3
million reported U.S. infections.
"Anyone who's responsible for that many deaths should not remain
as president of the United States of America," Mr. Biden said as he
provided the latest statistics on new cases and deaths. "We're in a
circumstance where the president thus far still has no plan, no
The former vice president offered stark predictions about the
nation's potential challenges ahead with the pandemic, saying many
more people would die without a change in strategy.
"We're about to go into a dark winter, a dark winter," Mr. Biden
said. "He has no clear plan and there's no prospect that there's
going to be a vaccine available for the majority of the American
people before the middle of next year."
The president said the country cannot remain locked up, jabbing
that his rival has remained in a basement during the campaign. Mr.
Biden made few in-person appearances over the summer and has a
lighter travel schedule than the president.
"We can't close up our nation or you're not going to have a
nation," Mr. Trump said, a point he made repeatedly.
"I'm going to shut down the virus, not the country," Mr. Biden
said, adding that the country needs more resources to allow schools
and businesses to fully reopen.
Mr. Trump repeatedly suggested Mr. Biden and his family members
had benefited financially from his time as vice president, when his
son Hunter Biden had business dealings in Ukraine.
A report released by Senate Republicans said two Obama
administration officials raised concerns that Hunter Biden's
position on the board of a Ukrainian natural-gas company created
the perception of a conflict of interest with his father's work.
The report did not find that Joe Biden sought the removal of a
Ukrainian prosecutor to protect the company from investigation.
"I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my
life," Mr. Biden said.
"There's a reason why he's bringing up all this malarkey," the
former vice president said. "He doesn't want to talk about the
substantive issues. It's not about his family and my family. It's
about your family."
Mr. Trump repeated his arguments that the country would suffer
economically under Mr. Biden: "If he's elected, the stock market
The candidates also clashed over foreign policy, with Mr. Trump
defending attempts to deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un,
and they offered divergent views on health care.
Mr. Trump said the Affordable Care Act was facing a Supreme
Court challenge because the law was "no good." He said his
administration, which is backing the challenge to the law, would
run the health program well if it survives.
Mr. Trump, who has cast Mr. Biden as beholden to progressive
members of his party, suggested that Mr. Biden would be forced to
adopt "socialized medicine" if elected. "Bernie Sanders wants it.
The Democrats want it," Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Biden said that he would push for a public option to compete
with private insurers, not an expansion of Medicare for all
Americans. "The reason why I had such a fight with 20 candidates
for the nomination was I support private insurance," Mr. Biden said
of the Democratic primary. He pledged that no American would lose
private insurance under his health plan unless they chose the
On immigration, Mr. Biden acknowledged the Obama
administration's struggles to find consensus in Congress for broad
reforms, including criticism it oversaw widespread deportations.
"It took too long to get it right," he said. Mr. Trump was put on
the defensive over a new report that the parents of more than 500
children separated at the haven't been found.
The event at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., moderated
by NBC's Kristen Welker, was expected to be their last joint
appearance before a large television audience, with national polls
showing the incumbent trailing and his campaign at a cash
Tumultuous news cycles dominated by the pandemic, economic
challenges and racial unrest have failed to move the needle much on
the race's national polling for most of the summer and fall.
A national poll average from RealClearPolitics shows Mr. Trump
trailing Mr. Biden by 7.9 percentage points, and state surveys
suggest he's also facing close contests in some battlegrounds he
easily won four years ago. He and his aides have projected optimism
by suggesting that the surveys are wrong, as some were in states
that delivered his 2016 victory.
The former vice president's campaign started October with a
cash-on-hand balance almost three times as large as Mr. Trump's,
giving him a financial edge in race's closing days. Mr. Biden had
$177.3 million at the end of last month, compared with $63.1
million for Mr. Trump, filings with the Federal Election Commission
this week showed.
Mr. Biden plans to speak Friday near his home in Delaware on how
he would address the pandemic and bolster the economy, followed by
a Saturday visit to Bucks County, Pa. He ramped up his travel
schedule this fall, but he spent most of this week at home
preparing for the debate.
Mr. Trump has been doing campaign rallies nearly every day and
is set to travel to his adopted home state of Florida. He is
scheduled to hold rallies Friday in The Villages, a mega retirement
community in the center of the state, and then Pensacola, another
area when his campaign wants to run up the vote total.
Saturday morning, Mr. Trump is expected to cast an in-person
early vote in West Palm Beach and then hold rallies in North
Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin.
--Joshua Jamerson, Madeleine Ngo and Sabrina Siddiqui
contributed to this article.
Write to John McCormick at firstname.lastname@example.org and Alex Leary
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 22, 2020 23:06 ET (03:06 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.